Yes, you read the title correctly. The Notre Dame Football program is at a unique crossroads this week as it recovers from a marathon loss to Pittsburgh and prepares to face Boston College .
This week is more crucial to the outcome of the season for the Fighting Irish than their bye week was two weeks ago. Why? Because this week, as Notre Dame Football fans, we will see two different things:
First, we will see how a very young team will bounce back after a tough loss at home to an opponent that they should have beaten very soundly.
Second, we will see how Charlie Weis, as the head of the program, will go about repairing his limping program that has a few very blatant problems and capitalizing on the things his team is doing correctly.
Usually, I write an article every week that recaps the previous weekend’s game. Recently, most of the things I’ve highlighted as strengths of the game or weaknesses of the game have reoccurred several times throughout the season and such is the case this week. Rather than recap the Irish’s performance against Pittsburgh, I think it’s more important for the sanity of the fans to write an article detailing the program as a whole.
Anybody, Irish fan or not, that is ready to throw Charlie Weis, Corwin Brown, and the entire Notre Dame Football team under the bus because of their loss to Pittsburgh had way too high of expectations for this football team coming into this season.
Unfortunately, people have already been talking about Weis being fired this offseason. The fact is that most level-headed Irish fans or pundits knew that this season would turn out to look something similar to what we’re seeing right now.
Most erratic fans saw what Notre Dame did against Michigan and started buying tickets to all of the BCS bowls-reselling on eBay the tickets to whichever game in which the Irish didn’t play. Even a victory against the Trojans of USC didn’t seem out of realm of possibility and the history books were all but published documenting the biggest turn around for any football program in Notre Dame’s history.
The harsh reality is that this program is right where they should be. Is it where we want it to be? No. They are beating the teams that they should and are competing with teams that are ranked somewhere near the bottom of every top 25 list. The kind of progress that this team has shown from last season to this season is remarkable, and it takes a person blind to facts and logical thinking to not realize this.
Sure, there are things that this program needs to change, most notably the mistakes of the coaching staff. Charlie Weis, for the love of all things Holy, take back the laminated paper from Mike Haywood! This offense has become very predictable in the second half of nearly every game this season and is a large part of why the Irish can’t close out a tight game successfully.
Unfortunately, I think that this coaching staff has gotten used to being behind in a football game and don’t want to risk coaching to win a game, rather than coaching to not lose when the Irish are ahead. This team cannot afford to be run in such a manner. When this young team is ahead in a game, the coaching staff needs to put the pedal to the floor instead of beginning to utilize their defensive driving skills.
Additionally, this team is still playing with a plethora of mental errors coming in crucial spots. Harrison Smith commits a personal foul that stops a scoring drive that the team desperately needed against Pittsburgh.
Mike Floyd tries to lateral a ball in the closing seconds of the North Carolina game instead of going down, possibility giving the option of another play. Jimmy Clausen throws an interception for a touchdown in the first play of the second half against North Carolina and throws two more interceptions against Michigan State.
But the mistakes are not exclusive to the players. As Anthony Pilcher noted , it took Corwin Brown three drives to find a way to stop the “wildcat formation” that Pittsburgh was running on Saturday. The excruciating result of these mental errors, however, is that the Irish very well could be 8-0 right now, but that doesn’t mean that they should be.
The bright spot is that this team has a plethora of young talent that is still improving at a rapid place. This team is still playing with upperclassmen that didn’t see much time before last year and underclassmen that have still yet to develop physically and mentally.
Sure, underclassmen make their mistakes, but it’s imperative to understand that, once this team matures into next season like they matured into this season, the Irish will be fielding a squad that most Irish fans will be proud of. We’ve seen flashes of their abilities this season, but as the squad matures, the spaces between the flashes of brilliance will begin to recede.
This week is a critical one for this program, its players, its coaches, and its fans. This week will define this entire season. If the Irish can play next weekend and pull out a victory in Boston, it will certainly be the turning point for this program for years to come.
Boston College is a team that is sitting exactly where the Irish are in terms of skill and experience and if the Irish can manage to win, it will mean that they have begun to rise above mediocrity.
If there’s anything that Weis has shown in his first three and a half seasons at Notre Dame, it’s his willingness to adapt and change when necessary. If there’s anything that most Irish fans have shown is their unwillingness to accept mediocre seasons, which, I’m sorry to say, is what we’ll have to accept this season.
But the future is bright at Notre Dame! If this season is any glimpse of the potential this squad possesses for years to come, buy your BCS tickets next year.